The Camp Diaries: Weeks 2-3

Bonjour from camp land!

Where to begin? Unfortunately I fell a bit short on the blog updating front as I got pretty sick (still have yet to regain my voice to its full potential), and as a result have far too many stories to tell from the past two weeks. BUT I shall use my notes in an effort to convey the gist of camp craziness.

End of Week 1- The Weekend Adventure:

Saturday marked the first venturing beyond the walls of the chateau with fellow counselor, Olive. It felt strange to leave the premises and see a space outside of a camp-covered chateau. At first sight only Normandy countryside-a.k.a. flat farmland as far as the eye could see- surrounded us. But 30 minutes later Olive and I arrived in a tiny town filled with old people gambling, smoking and sipping on coffees at a miniscule cafe, and bored teenagers hanging out in front of the small highschool. We walked back and forth searching for a semblance of food and sticking out like bright, awkward tourists. Finally the boulangerie opened and we feasted on bread, cheese, and cider in the shade of a chapel as Frenchies walked past with smiles or stares plastered to their faces. We didn’t care. We were content with our picinic….and tipsy off cider.

Week 2- Monday Madness:

Change is the theme of this week. Two new counselors arrived last night full of energy and excitmement.

The day started with a relatively calm atmosphere- we were efficient and even finished the set up with extra time on our hands. We had a week under our belts and figured we had it in the bag. Bring on the kids! …That is until a storm of 50 tiny kids poured off the bus. Not teenagers, not adolescents- kids. At first I thought the perspective was making them tinier than expected. But it was actually their age. Not 10 and 11 year olds but tiny, hyper, first-time-away-from-home 8 year olds.

The rest of the day was chaos. The teachers came over-prepared and messed with the money system (which I was conveniently in charge of) and the kids were confused, hyper, scared, shy, and unable to comprehend the situation (aka English). Olive and I’s window was apparently not fully shut and our room flooded with the afternoon rain that decided to contribute to the chaos. Our evening campfire was canceled and dividing up ESL classes was quite the confusing effort. This week is already so different.

Bank of America time

Bank of America time

Tuesday and Wednesday It’s a love/hate game I’m playing: 

We divided the ESL classes and I got the lower level hyperactive kids, as well as the one student with autism who is not taking kindly to our new camp names. So now he has two names- French+ American Camp name. So far, so good.

Well, I faced my fear of teaching elementary frenchies. I first faced my fear of highschool students in Montbeliard, and now the part of me perpetually terrified of teaching such small non-native speakers is calm. All things considered, the class went really well today and they kids are pretty damn cute with their tiny French voices. I miss working with little kids. It’s nice to be reminded of the work I love.

Wed…
The days are getting longer. And more chaotic. Last night a kid peed himself and another one cried for home. Today several cried from dodgeball. And yelled. So. Much. Yelling. What a horrible game. I only have one more full day, but it seems like an eternity. My throat is sore from all the yelling over excited voices. All. The. Time.

I find it funny that instead of yelling “you can’t do that” to one another, the kids say, “tu n’as pas le droite” (aka ‘you don’t have the right!’). I’m glad I understand French.

All in all I’ve enjoyed this week- which is a testament to how much I love working with elementary kids. True they’re hyperactive little shits for a large portion of the time, but they’re also adorable little beings with giant smiles, and a genuine curiosity for learning about this world they’re in.

The day is done and all I want is silence. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Even laughing feels like effort. My throat hurts. My ears are buzzing. I fall asleep with tiny French voices in my head.

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ESL madness

Thursday- New Theme Day- Hit Music:

What am I supposed to do with this theme? These are kids not teenagers! We’ve been reviewing colors, shapes, and the alphabet. Oy vey this week is long.

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I’ve been working general store for the week- the place where we sell kid crack (candy and soda) and souvenirs for mom and dad. First thought- this is tedious and horrible and I really don’t see the point. But two days later and I see the benefit. It’s a good experience for the kids to be in charge of money, and have a real life situation of making transactions in another language. Well done AMVIL.

I feel like a goblin counting gold. I was locked away in General Store for over an hour on a beautiful day counting inventory and doing far too much math. I regret working General Store this week. Who knew little kids would buy so much more than teenagers?

Dancing with kids is golden. I love their energy and excitement (some of the times), but most of all their smiles. Compared to the teenagers last week, it was refreshing to open the doors and have the kids not awkwardly stand in corners, but descend on the dance floor in a sea of spastic and enthusiastic movement. One little elf (no really, that was her camp name), all round and ‘typically nerdy looking’, broke out of her shell and boldly asked the boys to dance. At the end of the night she gave me an impish smile as she held up her count of four fingers (four boys).

Friday-

We said goodbye to one of our new counselors today and it felt oddly sad. He was only here for a week, but you bond quickly in the trenches.

The sentiment was different for the departure of the kids. Some counselors literally did cartwheels as the bus full of kids pulled away.

Two more weeks.

End of Week 2- Weekend Adventure:

I hate the world. I’m sick. At least it took effect when the kids left. But I wish I could just not be sick at all! Going into town for some meds.

We stopped at bakery where Olive got a macaroon. It was quite the process as the baker walked around the counter and used little tongs to carefully pull the bright yellow pastry out of the fridge and place it on silver platter. Then she instructed us in French that we needed to wait 10 min for it too cool down in order for the flavor to be ‘top’. I love France.

At least sick meds, sun, swans, and tiny dogs that think they’re the swan commander, help with sickness.

Week 3- “Santa brought condoms to camp”

I had to work customs this week (confiscating snacks and electronics) and I was not a fan. Neither were the kids. They were pretty good sports, but it’s not the ideal first impression I’d like to make on kids.

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Also an 11-year-old camper, Santa Claus, brought condoms to camp. According to the teachers they’re probably his dad’s, but still…Santa brought condoms to camp.

The difference in their level is like night and day. This age is so interesting as they are on the precipice of teenagedom- but not too cool yet. 

As we sat around the campfire singing songs and roasting marshmallows, I realized how funny it is to teach almost teenagers how to roast marshmallows. Sharing my childhood past time of s’mores, something so normalized for me, and so bizarre to them was amusing as they quizzically looked at eachother and whispered, “c’est trop bon!” 

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Tuesday-Thursday: Activities

This is my first week working on Activities instead of ESL. It’s a lot of physical work but maybe beats lesson planning at 11 at night.

First time in two weeks getting a break- 40 glorious minutes and all I could do was try to sleep. My sickness wants me to sleep, but my brain is too wired from my internal camp clock. Eff. 

survival essentials

survival essentials

Being on activities means teaching a bunch of frenchies how to play baseball. Objectively this sport is pretty weird. Fortunately these kids were really excited about learning and got pretty invested in the game. Only one student cried- great success! 

Two camp essentials- hot water and health. When you don’t have either things get dicey. I’m getting real tired of Normandy. 

Spectacle
This is the worst thing ever. Being sick and in charge of the same kids all day is brutal. How can I get them to focus, write a script, memorize lines and block out a scene if I don’t have a voice? I want this day to end. 

Ok so spectacle felt brutal, but was ultimately worth it to see the smiles at the end of the night. My kids were so proud of their performances and said goodnight with giant, beaming, smiles. I’m such a sucker. 

It also didn’t hurt to have amusing counselor interludes. Laughing at your coworkers as they try to do tricks as an awkward caterpillar, and smashing shaving cream into your coworker’s faces as you imitate their arms and laugh cry into their backs is really quite wonderful. Laughter is indeed the best medicine. 

Friday-Saturday: “Day Release”

The kids left crying (some even sobbing). I guess that means we’ve done our job well. It’s always a mixed feeling saying goodbye. We want them to go, so we can have some quiet and enjoy our one day off, but it’s strange to think that we’ll never see them again.


But tonight we’re actually going to a real city! The counselors are trekking to Rouen for a night on the town. I’m excited to speak French again. Being surrounded by French every day, but not being allowed to speak it has been a bit torturous. I never thought I’d say this, but my mouth misses French.

Rouen is a really cool city. It was so strange to see night life, and restaurants, and so many people. The counselors didn’t know what to do with themselves. So they got drunk. 

As my fellow coworker Buzz said of the night, “it’s like day release from prison”. 

I think that about sums it up.

One more week.

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The Camp Diaries: Week 1

Catnip here- yes we get camp names, and yes, long story short, my name is Catnip.

Whew. What a week it’s been (or actually more like a week in a half- time is completely warped here). I am bruised, muddy, sore, smelly, sleep deprived, on the verge of sickness, and so very happy. Yes, happy. Camp life is intense but so very rewarding.

Where do I begin? I tried to take notes as every day was adventure packed, and filled with events, characters, and experiences perfect for humourous short stories. And every day felt like five days rolled into one. But seeing as how today is my one day off, and my first day of nothing but blue skies in Normandy, I will try to keep this short and sweet:

Days 1-3: The Beginning/Set Up

Well I got placed in Normandy. The furthest site from Grenoble and one of the colder and more rainy areas of France. My room is a camp room- sparse, cold, (freezing at night), with nothing but beds and broken dressers (but I have it all to myself for the week!). The showers come in 20 second bursts, but at least the pressure is decent and the water is warm.

But all in all, I can’t complain. I’m placed at an old Chateau in FRANCE- the stuff of fairytales…or murder mysteries. There are so many birds singing and chatting in the morning, and fat rabbits running around at night. And a cherry blossom tree is starting to bloom right outside of my room. I think I can stay here a while.

 

What do you get when you put 2 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Irishman, and a Brit together? Don’t know, but we’re gonna find out! The counselors are finally all together and setting up the site. It’s a lot of work for 5 people (I set up an entire computer lab!), but I think we’re ready for the kids.

1st day with Kids: Immigration

This was only a half day, but man was it busy. I worked on passport duty (checking them in and helping them select wacky names), and then assisted with customs. It was pretty intense to search for and confiscate teenager’s phones and snacks. Most of them were good sports. It doesn’t hurt that their level is very advanced!

We divided into families and had one of the most polite dinners I’d experienced in some time. Not only did they say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, but ‘may I please have’ or ‘may I serve you’. Some even got into it and started serving food like fancy waiters. I like these kids already. Continue reading

C’est Terminé

I suck at goodbyes. I prolong them. I avoid them. I pretty much live in denial until the last possible moment where I am forced to face them. I have friends who choose to deal with each moment as if it’s our last, getting all sappy and sentimental about how this is our last brunch together, our last baguette, our last tooth-brushing session…This in turn makes me  awkwardly clam up as they blatantly penetrate the denial walls I have so craftily built. The result usually consists of me blurting something like, “No! We still have time!!” and shaming them for their raw sentiment. Like I said, I suck at goodbyes.

But is there ever a good way to do it? Are there people who actually like goodbyes? Does it get easier the more you have to do it?

At this point I’ve said my fair share of goodbyes- family, community and childhood friends for college, my Grecian union of lovely ladies during my study abroad, my college community, my Boston kin, students -so many students- and now my international clan. And for me it never gets easier. I leave a little piece of my heart in each place. And even if giving a minuscule sliver of your heart makes it that much more painful when you go, I think it’s worth it. But it doesn’t mean goodbyes are easy. 

It’s especially hard as a teacher. You’re in a constant state of goodbyes. And with foreign students there really is a finality to the farewell. As I prepared for my final classes this morning I was surprised to feel slightly anxious. Would they care? Would I be memorable? They’ll have other English assistants next year. I’m just one of many, but they will forever be imprinted in my memory.

It was helpful to remember the questions they asked what feels like forever ago and remember how we’d grown as a group. How I’d gained (and earned!) their respect, their trust and their laughter. 

Looking at things in retrospect is surreal. The places and people that once seemed intimidating, and so foreign (in my case literally), have become a part of you and will forever make up an aspect of your identity.

I was relieved to finish my day with a smile on my face and reinforcement on my walls of denial (my students did a damn good job of breaking them down). We laughed, we drew, we learned and we said farewells. At the end of the day I was left speechless by one of my favorite classes who presented me with a beautiful card.

Some of my favorite “words”:

“I will miss you very, I like you so much”.

“I will miss your lessons…they were interesting, captivating, various and so fun! I hope you’ll keep a good memory of your stay and job here. Good continuation.”

“Anna, I’m really happy about the moments we spent together! I was really enjoying your knowledge. If you liked your journey, you can always come back!”

“Thanks for your amazing lessons!”

“Dear Anna, your lesson was very nice and I enjoyed it. I’ll miss you alot…Your Florian. P.S. I love you”.

“Thank you for everythinks. 🙂 You’ll miss us.”

Don’t know if that’s what she meant to say, but it’s true. I will miss them. And I’m going to miss teaching.

So Montbeliard, it’s time I bid you adieu. As much as we’ve had our ups and downs, and as much as I have trash-talked you when we weren’t together, Montbeliard you were my home. And today a little piece of my heart will remain with you.

When good classes go…Great!

It’s funny to look back and think about my teachers. I can’t imagine any of them getting nervous before a class, but I do. Just about every time I teach a new lesson, I get nervous. Because I care. Will they participate? What will they have to say about this? Will they grasp the concept, understand what I’m teaching, walk away having learned something? Some days I wish I didn’t care- I think that teaching these little shits would be much easier if I didn’t care. But then I remember that I do (and I don’t know if it’s possible for me to stop) and when I look back at my favorite teachers, they did too. And I loved them not because their lessons were easy or fun or because they themselves were super cool- it was because they cared (and yes that usually resulted in their classes being fun and engaging and them being pretty cool, but that was a byproduct of their passion).

Post New Years Resolutions, my teachers have had a bizarre bevy of lesson requests. Currently I am teaching lessons ranging from the psychology of vampires, to murder mysteries, to environmental issues, to how the US political system works and the complexity of US gun culture. Sometimes it’s frustrating having a predetermined plan chosen for me, while other times I welcome the simplified springboard.

The days where the students participate, the time flies from engagement, and I feel as though my being here actually matters, are the days when I feel elated to have this profession. True, I am only a part-time assistant in a foreign country (and many days I am disrespectfully reminded of that fact), but to have the students get as involved in a lesson as I am, for them to yell I love you in the hallway (in a genuine and not hitting on me kind of way), for them to express actual sadness at the knowledge that I will only be here a for a few more months, and for them to yell at incoming classes that they are not ready to stop my lessons- those moments are priceless.

And I am grateful for these moments. For the time that the confused student who constantly blurts “what do you speak??” actually learned ‘I don’t understand’, or the time I teared up (just a little) from a student’s perfect synthesis of what I had just taught on gay marriage, or that I could trust my students enough to blindfold me and prove their knowledge of verbal directions as they led me through a classroom maze, or for the knowledge that came with mock mystery investigations- that it’s possible to play and teach at the same time. I appreciate even the bizarre little moments, when one student oh so earnestly asked, ““uh madame…can you ear zat I ave uh accente?”, or when a peculiar student insistently declared that she “was batman”. These good and…weird moments make those days when I wonder “why do teachers do this to themselves!?” fade away.

Fortunately today was one of those days and I’m so happy it was. As I start to see the finish line of the TAPIF program and waiver back and forth between “dear god let’s speed up to the end already!” and “but I’m not ready to go!!”, it’s nice to have days like today where I’m happy to be here now. Here’s hoping these moments continue to stay strongly in the forefront of my memory.